While this isn’t the rant I was planning on posting, it feels pertinent because of something that happened at work recently.
We had to let go of a patient. And while this isn’t terribly uncommon, it just hit me hard as the occasional case does. Most of the time, we can view humane euthanasia as the ultimate gift—the ability to relinquish pain and suffering. A body crippled by cancer, heart failure, renal failure—these are probably the most common ailments that ultimately lead to a beloved pets’ demise. There are others too but these are the ones that are often affiliated with quality of life questions—when is it time? The short answer: you will know. If you happen to be wondering how we might guide someone to know when it is time, usually it’s when the pet stops engaging, stops eating and drinking, retreats to far-off corners or unusual places. There is no cookie-cutter answer, every case is unique, but that is a fairly standard reply when dealing with a chronic, debilitating, and ultimately fatal condition.
But when you have a young life in your hands, one you’re trying to pull through shock and trauma, it can be a rollercoaster ride of emotion. One minute, everything looks promising and it seems that the patient is going to recover. The entire team has rallied and is working hard—the patient is fighting and has that dynamic will to live then it all falls apart. Everything starts to unravel quickly when the patient gives up. Despite all our intervention, all the advancements in medical technology, the new drugs, and new techniques, once that will is lost, it’s pretty much over. And while humane euthanasia does alleviate suffering, when we let that little one go on Wednesday, I felt like a failure.
I can’t even imagine what it’s like to work with (human) pediatric patients in critical care, those medical personnel must have the world’s best coping skills.
In the veterinary field, when we see a patient rapidly deteriorating, it often and unfortunately leads to one of the hardest phone calls or conversations—the recommendation for humane euthanasia. Which often leads to us being asked the ultimate question: how are you able to do it? The short answer: it’s never easy.
Humane euthanasia is never easy to witness but isn’t always tragic. One case that stands out in my memory was a very old kitty with Squamous Cell Carcinoma in her sinuses that had most likely metastasized to the brain. The family knew it was time; the kitty was ready to go. While we delivered the injection (I was the technician holding for the vet) the kitty was purring contently. The entire family was there and everyone had a hand on her. I’m so glad she went to sleep with her family right there beside her.
I always recommend that if you can be present, be there for your pet in the end.
When I had to humanely euthanize my own beloved pup, it was the most surreal feeling I’ve ever experienced. And after having witnessed the gambit of emotions involved in putting a pet to sleep, I had never experienced it for myself. When I walked out of the exam room, where it had happened, and into the clinic’s lobby, everything was blurry. I knew there were people there but their voices were muffled. When I walked out, I got into the wrong car (the door was unlocked). Reality kicked in when I didn’t recognize the things in the car. Later that day, I began to struggle to cope with the decision to end my pup’s life.
There’s The Rainbow Bridge poem (https://www.rainbowsbridge.com/Poem.htm)which a lot of people turn to in order to cope with their sorrow, but that did nothing for me. One of my friends suggested putting together a scrapbook and while I’m not a crafty person, I went to Michaels to get supplies. I was wandering around the store and then a song started playing. I recognized the unmistakable voice of Enya, and I listened at just the right moment when the song lyrics went:
Come, sleep, close your eyes
Come, sleep, give me your sorrow
And I’ll keep watch for you
Until the dawn is breaking through.
Until the morning wakens you.
And I stood frozen—stupefied—in the middle of Michaels. I came to understand that I had not decided to end my pup’s life—I had decided to take her pain as my own. I suddenly envisioned the process from an entirely different perspective. That she would close her eyes, I would take her pain, her sorrow—and watch over her, until she woke up on the other side, completely whole again and free from suffering. Her pain was now mine to bear and I was content with that.
We’ve put many patients to sleep that we have all come to love—some we’ve watched from beginning to end, some we’ve only met in their final years, and it turns the atmosphere somber while we all grieve in our own way. No matter how many times we do the procedure, it never gets easy, and I don’t expect it ever will.
If you go to a vet clinic and ask what the charge is to humanely euthanize a pet then make the following comment:
But a bullet is only fifty-nine cents.
We will most likely want to punch you in the face then throat stomp you while you’re bleeding on the ground. It’s one of the stupidest comments I have heard on way more than one occasion. If you want to shoot your pet, keep that to yourself and talk to your therapist. If you need a cheaper resource than a veterinary clinic or hospital, please contact a local shelter. I’ve even worked at low-cost clinics and heard that comment a few times. It always makes me see red. And some jackass even mentioned it at a friend’s Thanksgiving dinner, to which I promptly left. Don’t be an insensitive prick. Just don’t.
Our pets are the best and their memories are forever in the heart. For veterinarians and their staff, this can include many of your pets too.